Category Archives: summer

Summer In The Hedgerow

Hi there! Long time, no blog! It’s been a busy summer around here — school tours at the Farm, cooking demos at the State Fair, some exciting news coming soon for the Homestead Radio Hour, and now the getting-ready for farmer’s market season — not to mention all the sundry regular business of farming…. so, in celebration of all that is Summer, I thought a visit to our new hedgerow would be a nice way to ease back into the Blogworld!


Clockwise from top left: Pomegranate, Myosotis, Perennial Sunflower, Buddleia

So, what’s a “hedgerow,” anyway? The world conjures up bucolic English country lanes, lined with damsons and sloes, the kinds of thorny shrubbery whose obscure fruits inevitably end up in jellies, wines, or gin. All fine and well, but what’s it got to do with a sunny California fruit ranch?


Borage, an all-time favourite with the bees, of both the honey and bumble sort!

First, let’s start with a bit of background. Simply and broadly put, a hedgerow is a planting of shrubs, trees, and/or herbaceous plants, for a reason. They’re typically dense, hence the “hedge,” in a linear layout, the “row,” and serve a purpose other than decoration or simple food production. In fact, hedgerows of any description play multiple roles: sure, they’re attractive, and can include plantings of edible and useful shrubs and plants, but their utility goes beyond mere ornamentation.

The earliest known hedgerows date from the Neolithic Age, and were used to enclose fields for growing cereal crops. A hedge would have served as a living fence, marking field boundaries, keeping animals and livestock in or out, even providing defense against attack. On top of that, hedgerows would also provide wood, food, and shelter for for game and wildlife. Their utility kept them in regular use through the centuries, from the Middle Ages to the industrial era, and up to the present day; although barbed wire and modern livestock fencing offer easier and more convenient ways to fence fields, hedgerows are still in use in Great Britain and much of the world. Though many historic hedges in the UK were neglected or destroyed to make way for modern field systems and food production, the hedgerow is making a comeback worldwide as  an important element in sustainable agriculture — which brings us to the B H Ranch! Continue reading



Filed under around the farm, homestead how-to, orchard, organic, summer

Foto Friday: glorious garden!

At last! The moment we’ve all been waiting for…

Just look at these beauties! We’ve been eagerly watching the eggplant and zucchini all week, measuring their progress day by day, and trying to be ever so patient — but tonight, finally, it was time for the First Official Garden Dinner of Summer. Slice, olive oil and salt, grill, fresh basil, delicious.

The garden is a glorious jungle — the tomatoes are as tall as I am! My evening ritual is to wander the rows barefoot, still-warm soil under my toes, pulling weeds and doing a giddy jig every few yards as I find a giant green tomato, or a tiny cucumber. (My regular performances of the Gleeful Zucchini Dance sure did the trick, as you’ve already seen! I’m telling you, those plants just love the attention.)

I’m especially excited about this heirloom German Cherry tomato I grew from seed. I never seem to start my seedlings early enough, but this year, with the help of a borrowed heating mat, success!

Brenda knows every inch of the garden, and we make our evening rounds together. Then it’s time to have a set and enjoy the perfectly cool evening…

Happy gardening, and Happy Summer!

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Filed under around the farm, foto friday, in the garden, summer

Celebrating Our “Freedom Of the Fork”

Today we bring you two episodes of The Homestead Radio Hour, our monthly radio program on KVMR FM Nevada City. Over the past few years we’ve been honoured to talk with and interview a wide variety of guests, from farmers and beekeepers to local-food advocates and educators; but no matter what the topic, we always seem to come back to the importance of knowing where your food comes from, knowing the people who grew or raised it, knowing how it was made, and knowing how to do a little more in your own backyard.

The two episodes below are especially appropriate, I think, for Independence Day. How do we define “independence” when it comes to consumption? Are we really free if we have to rely on a mysterious, all-powerful system of corporations to decide what goes on our dinner tables? And what happens if, one day, that machinery breaks?

The first episode here — “Independence From The Food Machine” — features local author and real-food advocate Joanne Neft. She started the first Foothill Farmer’s Market in Auburn twenty-two years ago, she has written two beautiful books on how to cook with seasonal, local meats and produce, she has been a tireless advocate for our local farmers and food economy, and that’s just the beginning! Joanne is one of the most inspiring people I know in the world of food and farming, and it was such a treat to sit down with her at the historic Newcastle fruit-packing sheds and talk about the importance, and the joys, of real food. In this episode, we also visit the farmer’s market to talk to shoppers, chefs, and farmers about why they love fresh, local, and seasonal food.

The second episode here is one that I still can’t quite believe happened. We were totally knocked out to get to interview Joel Salatin and Michael Ableman, world-renowned farmer-author-activists, on the Homestead Radio Hour back in January. The whole thing came as a complete surprise — we were planning to talk about the Nevada County Farm Conference, where they were going to be featured speakers, but the last thing we expected when we arrived at the studio was to find Messrs. Salatin and Ableman waiting for us! We frantically scribbled down some notes and questions in the few minutes before the show started, but our semi-panicked frenzy was completely unnecessary; they were so down-to-earth and easy to talk with, and it was a delight just hearing the two of them take the conversation in ways we hadn’t even planned.

I hope you enjoy these two episodes at your leisure on a lovely summer afternoon, preferably with a tall glass of lemonade or a bowl of icy watermelon — the old-fashioned kind, with seeds. They’re so much sweeter that way!

The Homestead Radio Hour, Thursday July, 8th, 2010: Independence from the Food Machine

With hosts Phyllis and Julia Boorinakis-Harper

Learn how you can achieve Independence From The Food Machine! This episode features local farmers, consumers, and chefs, as well as local food advocate and Placer County Real Food Cookbook author Joanne Neft. We talk about the benefits of eating fresh, local, in-season foods and give tips on how to do it without breaking the bank. Celebrate the national treasure of small farmers and CSAs, as well your own backyard, and claim your rights to freedom of the fork!

(Or listen here on the KVMR Podcast Page)

The Placer County Real Food Cookbook : Recipes, photographs, resources and more from Joanne Neft and Laura Kenny

Nevada County Grown : Locally Produced Food and Products

The Foothill Farmer’s Market Association : Local Farmer’s Markets from Roseville to Tahoe and everywhere in between…

The Homestead Radio Hour, January 2012: Joel Salatin and Michael Ableman

With hosts Phyllis and Julia Boorinakis-Harper

Joel Salatin and Michael Ableman visit the Homestead Radio Hour to talk about sustainable agriculture, “integrity food,” and the future of farming.

Joel Salatin is a full-time farmer in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley. A third generation alternative farmer, he returned to the farm full-time in 1982 and continued refining and adding to his parents’ ideas. His speaking and writing reflect dirt-under-the-fingernails experience punctuated with mischievous humor. He passionately defends small farms, local food systems, and the right to opt out of the conventional food paradigm. He is the author of nine books, including The Sheer Ecstasy of Being A Lunatic Farmer and Folks, This Ain’t Normal: A Farmer’s Advice for Happier Hens, Healthier People, and a Better World.

Michael Ableman is a farmer, author, and photographer and a recognized practitioner of sustainable agriculture and proponent of regional food systems. He has written several books and numerous essays and articles, and lectures extensively on food, culture, and sustainability worldwide. Michael is currently farming at the Foxglove Farm on Salt Spring Island in British Columbia, home of The Center for Arts, Ecology & Agriculture.

(Or listen here on the KVMR Podcast Page) : Joel Salatin – Polyface Farms : Michael Ableman – farmer, author, photographer

Find more Homestead Radio Hour episodes here on the KVMR Podcast Archive!


Filed under farmer's market, homestead how-to, Homestead Radio Hour, summer

Victory Gardens: Everything old is new again…

Have you noticed lately how many “new” gardening trends lately are really reflecting ideas that have been around for generations? Local food, home gardening, keeping chickens, foraging — our ancestors found these things to be second nature, but so many of these age-old skills were laid aside somewhere along the way in the steady march toward Progress and Modernization. If dinner can arrive neatly packaged in a box and be ready in minutes, who needs to cook? When the grocery store shelves are stocked with anything and everything we could possibly want to eat, why go to all the time and bother of growing our food from a handful of seeds?

I’ve been seeing more and more wonderful vintage posters and ephemera resurfacing from the heyday of “Victory Gardens” — the home plots that cropped up across Europe and America during the two World Wars to sustain families as food and resources were diverted toward the war efforts. Both supplies and the land to produce them were limited and precious, and so — in a remarkable effort toward encouraging what we would now call “sustainability” — governments began encouraging people to grow their own, and educating them in how to do it.

But it’s not just backyard plots that are an old idea turned new. Chicken-keeping, school gardens, canning — all these became patriotic pursuits in wartime. And now, once again, we’re rediscovering the value of producing and preserving our own food. The reasons may have changed, but the satisfaction and joy of harvesting your bounty never go out of date. And as we see our economic and food systems become increasingly unstable, it starts looking live a very good, and necessary, idea indeed.

Some of the posters issued to encourage home production are extraordinarily lovely — a tremendous variety of artists, from Harper’s Magazine illustrator Edward Penfield to French schoolchildren, contributed designs to the cause. I think they are just as inspiring today as ever — perhaps even more so because of the history and heritage they represent. Here is a sampling of those that I’ve collected… enjoy!

French WWI poster, 1916: “Let us look after the farmyard: I am a honest hen of war. I eat little and produce much.”

USDA ad, circa 1917: “Don’t sell the laying hen — all spring she will be turning insects, weeds, garbage, and waste into eggs for the Nation… it’s both patriotic and profitable”! Thankfully backyard birds across the country aren’t producing eggs to “win the war” today, but it may be just as important now to learn to produce our own food and be a little more self-sufficient. And as “urban farmers” discover the delights of fresh eggs and free fertilizer, the humble chicken reinstates herself as a part of the homestead, one backyard at a time!

A WWI-era poster by Edward Penfield for the United States School Garden Army. Its motto — “A garden for every child, every child in a garden” — sounds just as relevant today, as school and community gardens pop up across the nation. When the First Lady enlists a troupe of elementary school students to install a kitchen garden — the first since Eleanore Roosevelt’s Victory Garden — in the White House lawn, you know we’re headed in the right direction!

From this page about the United States School Garden Army: “At the advent of World War I, the Bureau of Education within the Department of the Interior, with funding from the War Department, created the United States School Garden Army (USSGA) to boost the concept as well as morale. This was the one of the first attempts by the BOE to establish a curriculum nationally.  It was also an attempt to help in the war effort by having the schools help grow food. To support this program a series of documents were written and distributed.  Among these were at least 15 USSGA Manuals and Guides, and 17 School Home-Garden Circulars. The target audience was urban and suburban boys and girls, ages 9 through 15, and their teachers. The subjects covered growing vegetables from seed, growing flowers, building hotbeds and coldframes, organic matter and soil health, regional guides and others.”

“ALONG THE EAST RIVER FRONT: Supervised by competent instructors the school children of New York City produced some excellent results in the gardens which they planted in various sections of the city. The very orderly one here shown, with a large number of children industriously engaged, is in Thomas Jefferson Park, 114th Street and East River.” I can’t decide which part of this image is the most extraordinary — children planting an eye-popping school garden in 1918? On a vacant lot in New York City? On the East River??? Wow.

This photograph is from the book The War Garden Victorious: Its War Time Need and Its Economic Value In Peace, published in 1919, documenting the US food gardening program during WWI. You can read it online here — be sure to check out the School Garden Army section. A quote from Woodrow Wilson really sums up the importance given to that program: “Every boy and girl who really sees what the home garden may mean will, I am sure, enter into the purpose with high spirits…. The movement to establish gardens, therefore, and to have the children work in them is just as real and patriotic an effort as the building of ships or the firing of cannon.”

And if the comparisons to ships and cannon fire weren’t enough motivation for the kids, here’s this 1943 edition of World’s Finest Comics, showing everyone’s favourite superheroes getting down to business! Though I worry that Robin is courting a nasty sunburn… it does look like he’s already in the early phases of heatstroke. Maybe gardening without pants wasn’t such a super idea after all?

War Gardens appeared across both Europe and America as supplies were redirected toward the war effort. The British Ministry of Agriculture issued these monthly “Allotment and Garden Guides” in 1945 to give the populace practical advice on growing their own food. (According to this one, before the Romans started meddling in things, August was known in England as “Weodmonath” — Weed Month. Sounds good to me!)

“Every month we shall try to do three things : first, we shall remind you of the things that ought to have been done, but may not have been possible because of the weather or for some other reason; secondly, we shall deal with gardening operations for the month; thirdly, we shall look ahead a month or two and remind you of what you need to do in readiness.” The guides are all available online here; click on over to enjoy their charmingly down-to-earth advice!

Canning? Yep, we’ve been doing that for a while too! I think I’ll skip the peas, myself… but those frilly rickrack-trimmed aprons? Oh, yes please.

“Let us cultivate our kitchen garden”: A French poster from 1917, by Louisette Jaeger, part of a series designed by school children in support of the war effort.

Who doesn’t love vegetables with faces? And isn’t that an enviable sun hat? Really, though — part of what makes the history of wartime gardening so fascinating to me is the massive accompanying efforts to educate the non-farming public on how to “grow their own.” From England to France to the USA, pamphlets flew forth on planting crops, raising chickens, even replacing sugar with fruit. And, once again, we are seeing people in cities and the countryside alike pick up their hoes, roll up their sleeves, and get back to the dirt! We don’t need a war to sow the “Fruits of Peace”…

WWI poster by James Montgomery Flagg, 1918, for the National War Garden Commission.

Let’s sow the seeds of tradition and independence in our own backyards!
Happy Fourth!


Filed under chickens, history, in the garden, summer

Brandied Pear Bread Pudding (and Pear Brandy, too)

So many pears! This is the time of year when we pick pears, carry pears, polish pears, sort pears, pack pears, sell pears, dry pears, eat pears…. every single day. It’s a short season, though — just about a month, really — so by the time you’re feeling slightly tired of pears, it’s almost time to start missing them. And that, to me, is precisely the joy of seasonal eating: nothing gets old. And everything, every bite, is wonderful. Which brings me to today’s recipe.

As soon as the weather begins to cool ever so slightly, it’s time to make my favourite brandied pear bread pudding — simple and cozy and delicious, the kind of recipe where every ingredient shines in its own right. Needless to say, it starts with good ingredients: a dense, crusty loaf of country-style French bread, or a rich challah; perfectly ripe pears; whole milk and fresh eggs for the custard; and, if you are lucky enough to have some in your pantry, pear brandy. We’ll get to the recipe in a moment, but first, about that brandy….

We always get a kick out of bringing one of these pears-in-a-bottle to the farmer’s market and setting it somewhere on our table. It never fails to set people to talking — and to tossing around all kinds of wild speculations on just how that pear got in there. “Did you light a match in the bottle, like with an egg?” “I know, you put a pear seed inside!” Of course, the real explanation is quite simple…. any guesses?

Growing a pear in a bottle (shhhh, it’s a secret!) is amusing enough on its own, but the real fun starts when the pear is ripe, and you fill up the bottle with brandy. The sugars and flavour of the fruit infuse the alcohol; we let the bottles sit for a good 6 months before opening them. Pear brandy makes a lovely after-dinner drink, and it’s a sublime baking ingredient. You can make a just-as-good, if not quite so spectacular, version by setting a ripe pear in a mason jar and topping it off with brandy. For this recipe, you can use regular brandy if you don’t have pear brandy ready-made, or even omit the brandy altogether. It lends a subtle and compelling warmth to the pudding, and the smell as it bakes is absolutely divine. I highly recommend the leftovers (should there be any) for breakfast!

Julia’s B-H Ranch Pear Bread Pudding

•  6 to 8 Bartlett pears (I like a mixture of firm-ripe and soft-ripe)
•  8 to 10 slices firm country-style French bread or challah
•  1 3/4 c milk (I use whole milk)
•  3 large eggs, beaten
•  2/3 c sugar, or a little less if you like it less sweet
•  1/4 c pear brandy (see note above)
•  1 tsp vanilla extract
•  1 tsp cinnamon
•  1/2 tsp nutmeg
•  1/4 c butter, melted and cooled a bit
•  1/4 c chopped walnuts (optional)
…and a deep 9″ square baking dish.

Preheat oven to 350°. Peel, core, quarter, and slice the pears into bite-size pieces. Slice the crusts off the bread and cut the bread into 1-inch cubes. Put the pears and bread into a large bowl and toss to mix.

Whisk milk, eggs, sugar, brandy, vanilla, and spices in a medium bowl. Slowly whisk in the butter. Pour this over the bread and pears in the other bowl, gently stir/fold to coat everything evenly, and let stand for 20-30 minutes, or until most of the liquid is absorbed. Turn the mixture after 10 to 15 minutes, being careful not to over-mix; you want the bread pieces to remain as intact as possible.

Pile bread mixture into a buttered baking dish (it will be very full; press gently to make it all fit.) If you like, sprinkle chopped walnuts over the top. Bake in a water bath at 350° for about an hour, or until set. (Check with a toothpick or the point of a knife.)

(To make a water bath: set the baking dish inside a larger baking dish, making sure there is room on all sides. Set the nested dishes on the oven rack and carefully pour boiling water into the outside dish, so that it fills one-half to two-thirds of the way up the inner pudding dish. If you fill it too high, boiling water may splash into your pudding, so don’t get too close to the rim of the inner dish. See the photo below if any of that sounds confusing… and don’t skip this step, as the water bath will keep the custard from curdling as it bakes. )

You may need to tent the pudding with foil if it looks like it is browning too quickly — if so, remove the foil for the last 10 minutes or so of baking so the top gets nicely crisp. Serve with lightly-sweetened whipped cream (with an additional dash of pear brandy mixed in, if you like) or vanilla ice cream. Enjoy!


Filed under autumn, farmer's market, homestead how-to, making things, preserving, recipes, summer

Honey Harvest — Part 2

We’ve spent the last few days extracting and bottling our honey harvest — all 300 pounds of it! Here’s how we get it out of the comb and into the jar…

First: getting ready. The labels are stamped, the extractor set up, the supers of honey stacked and ready to go. Ahh, everything looks so nice and neat and non-sticky… but that won’t last for long!

We begin by “uncapping” the combs, so the honey can run out. To do this, you use a heated knife to slice through the wax covers that seal the cells. The knife needs to be just hot enough to cut easily through the wax, but not to burn the honey.

An uncapped comb of luminous blackberry honey, ready to extract:

Next, the frames of comb and honey go into the extractor, which works kind of like a washing machine on the “spin” cycle. This extractor can hold four frames of honey at once, and is powered by elbow grease!

As the basket spins, the honey is pulled out of the comb by centrifugal force; then it collects in the bottom of the tank, where it runs out into a bowl or bucket. With this extractor, you spin the honey out of one side of the comb, turn the frames, and then repeat for the other side. Multiply that by 10 frames per super, 14 supers total… whew!

When the honey comes out of the extractor, it’s full of bits of wax from the uncapped combs. We pour it through a stainless-steel mesh small enough to catch  the wax flecks, but nowhere near so fine as to filter out the tiny grains of pollen in the honey — the good stuff!

It takes a good day’s work to get through all those frames… and the honey-extracting process does seem to attract an audience! Family and friends drift in until the little honey house is cozily crowded.

And, finally, into the jar it goes. Ready for the farmer’s market!

You can see all the action in this swell video Mikail made of the day’s work:

(We’ll be at the Foothill Farmer’s Markets in the next week or so — or drop us a note if you’d like to pick up a jar!)

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Filed under around the farm, beekeeping, farmer's market, homestead how-to, honey, summer

Honey Harvest — part 1

It’s that long-awaited time of year — the honey harvest! Tomorrow we’ll be up to our elbows (quite literally) in sticky delicious honey, but before the fun can start, there’s work to do… namely, collecting our haul!

The honey we’ll be extracting is in the shallower boxes, called “supers,” on top of the hives. Collecting them would be easy, except for one small problem: they’re full of bees! Since we of course don’t want to take the bees back home with us, we start by asking them politely to surrender the honey and head on out of the supers…. well, more or less.

We do get a bit of help in the communication department — see the black-topped little boxes on the hives above? They’re called “fume boards.” (Appealing, I know.) Inside is a sheet of cloth, which we’ve drizzled with a super-stinky solution that the bees absolutely loathe the smell of. Trust me, it’s nasty; I wish I had smell-o-vision here, except that I wouldn’t want to inflict upon you the horrid stench of bubblegum-meets-rotting-socks! A highly disturbing combination, and one which sends the bees running as quick as they can in the opposite direction — downward into the hive and away from the honey box. There are a few other methods of accomplishing the same goal, but they usually involve one-way “escape” doors that the bees have to navigate. These work, but they can take days, and there are always plenty of unlucky bees that don’t quite get the idea. We’ve found the “smelly” trick to be by far the simplest and easiest.

Even so, the exodus takes a bit of time; the usual suggestion is two or three minutes, but we find it takes a bit longer for everyone to find their way out. And we’re happy to cool our heels in the shade for a few extra minutes… and maybe a few minutes more:

photos by PB

Then it’s just a simple matter of loading the boxes into the truck and bringing them back to the Honey House. (Well, you usually have to stop for an ice cream somewhere along the way — it’s part of the deal.)

We’ll have photos of the spectacularly messy Part 2 soon — stay tuned!

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Filed under beekeeping, homestead how-to, honey, summer